The South Carolina beach volleyball team has been building a strong foundation in its young history that has allowed the team to see continued success since its inaugural season in 2014.
"It's a very family oriented group, and we always tend to have great team chemistry," junior Skylar Allen said. "And I think that helps us with our play as well."
Collegiate beach volleyball was first recognized by the NCAA in 2010, with the first D1 NCAA Championship taking place in 2016. South Carolina reached its first NCAA Champtionship appearence in 2017 and its second in 2018 as the sixth seed. That year the team set a program record with 24 wins, 12 of which were over ranked opponents.
In the 2021 season, the team had its second highest win percentage with 23 wins. Allen and former player Katie Smith were also named the first All-Americans in program history as a pair.
"It's really less about being the first of any of those things and more about just how can we continue to get better," said head coach Moritz Moritz.
Moritz is the first and only coach in the history of South Carolina beach volleyball, which gave him the opportunity to build the program from the ground up. According to Moritz, they were given the resources to build the program around quality people, which is something they continue to do nine years later.
"I think it's building that foundation and seeing what you can continue to build on top of that," Moritz said. "And then it takes, you know, what's the next piece?"
Katie became a big piece of the puzzle for South Carolina after joining the team in 2017, setting a number of program records before graduating last year. This includes the record for all-time wins, with 99 overall, and the program record for career starts.
Katie and Allen also had a 12-win streak at the end of the 2021 season, which set another program record and included a four-game win streak in the postseason.
“I feel like it's cool to just kind of be that standard, kind of that — I guess you could say — platform that we build our program on," said Allen.
Katie's sister, senior Jordan Smith, also plays at South Carolina and understands the impact that her sister left on the program before leaving.
“Her class really was kind of the first one that led the way and led them into Gulf Shores and nationals and all that stuff, so I would say it's big shoes to fill," Jordan said.
While Jordan said she doesn't like comparing herself to Katie, getting the chance to play with her as a Gamecock last year was a fun experience.
This season, beach volleyball continues see success after the departure of key players like Katie. According to Allen, this season has been one of the best for her as the team continues to get better every game.
“I feel like we’ve come out on top in more games than we have ever since I’ve been here," Allen said. "So it was just cool to see how the team dynamic outweighs adversity and how close we are. We’re just a family.”
The team is currently 17-8 with one more home meet before the postseason begins. Moritz says that this season's group has benefited from the leadership upperclassmen provide to younger players in the group.
"Every year builds on the previous year, and I think that that's the major piece," Moritz said. "One of the things with that is what can our returners add as far as their legacy is concerned for years to come."
According to Allen, it's not just South Carolina that has grown, but she's seen the sport as a whole grow substantially since she first started playing as a freshman.
“It’s really cool to see other schools are starting to get it too, and the sport is growing slowly but surely," Allen said. "Everyone’s getting better."